The year is 1943, and it’s a warm summer’s night at a local fishing village in Samfya, Luapula Province. A party is in full swing, with most of the village youth in attendance. They dance vigorously to the high-pitched drumming and songs full of commentary on moral issues, politics and important events.
The songs are primarily sung in Bemba and the music genre is called Kontolola (also known as Pimpinika and Sakilia). It’s a style that grew very popular, after Akalela, which was another source of entertainment, offering much the same social commentary in its lyrics.
The village elders grow suspicious because all the young folk seem to be attracted to these parties like moths to a flame and decide to ban the music. To avoid any tensions, innovative artists revive the music by adding a few home made instruments, namely a 3 stringed banjo, rattles made from bottle tops, the babatoni which was a type of bass and empty bottles acted as percussion. This reformation lead to a change in name of the music genre, and thus akalindula was born. These bands would provide entertainment at all sorts of celebratory village events, including chief coronations and weddings.
Inevitably, life’s changing seasons brought about a need to leave the area in search for greener pastures, as fishing became less appealing people moved to urban areas. And these travellers took the music with them to different parts of the country.
Fast forward a few decades later to the late 1970s and the music scene is booming thanks in large part to a directive from then President Kaunda, emphasising that 95% of music played on all radio and TV stations should be local in order to promote a sense of culture and national identity. By this time, there’s been an upgrade in the instruments, with drums, lead and bass guitars being added. The dancing style had not changed much and still involves vigorous waist popping moves and nimble footwork.
The directive brought to the fore musicians like Emmanuel Mulemena, The New Cross Bones (who would later rename themselves to Amayenge), Masasu Band, Paul Ngozi and WITCH to name a few. The 1980s brought PK Chishala, who popularised Kalindula music in its modern form, releasing hits like ‘Na Musonda’ and ‘Chimbayambaya,’ which are still enjoyed to this day.
What made these bands so popular were the often humorous stories contained in their lyrics that were sung in different languages, creating mass appeal. Malama Katulwende in his article for Culture Trip on kalindula music, points out that, “the material and philosophical basis of kalindula actually draws on the changes that define human existence – birth, growth, love, marriage, illness and inevitably death.”
Sadly, with the deaths of most of the pioneers of this music, this genre waned by the late 1990s. It saw a resurgence in 2002 when The Glorious Band came onto the scene with their single ‘Isambo lya mfwa.’ Their music, in reality was an offshoot of kalindula that drew its rhythmic influence from the Catholic church songs in Northern Province.
Nowadays, we have the likes of James Sakala and Afunika, who calls himself the king of modern kalindula. James reveals the reason he sings kalindula music:“I didn’t choose to sing this music, instead it chose me. I was born with it. I do this music because it defines who I am and what I stand for. Many young people in general today struggle with their identity. Most of them don’t really know who they are…maybe because of their up bringing. kalindula is a tool to preserve the Zambian culture. It is through kalindula that we can tell stories of how it used to be along time ago and how we can teach those traditional values to our children’s children.”